Around 3.8 million homes in England are at risk from surface water flooding and with a growing population, urbanisation and climate change, these risks are increasing. The National Climate Change Risk Assessment carried out in 2016 confirmed the potentially severe consequences of surface water flooding, with particular risk in large urban areas. Additionally, the Committee on Climate Change’s update on Progress in Preparing for Climate Change identified that risks of surface water flooding in towns and cities have not been adequately tackled and should be addressed in 2018.

In early 2017 the Inter-Ministerial Group on Flooding agreed to a project which will focus on strengthening the implementation of the current framework for managing surface water. As part of this, Defra commissioned CAG to carry out a review of the effectiveness of current arrangements for managing surface water flood risk locally. The objectives were to provide independent evidence about local management of surface water flood risk to feed into the cross-Whitehall project and the preparation of Defra’s Surface Water Management Action Plan.

How we delivered the project

The review involved seven case studies of local authority areas. The local authority areas were selected in order to gain insights from a range of different contexts. A review of key strategies and documents was undertaken to set the context for the case study and to inform subsequent interviews with key stakeholders.

In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives from stakeholder organisations in each area, including the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), Local Highways Authority; and Water and Sewerage Company. Additional interviews were conducted, where relevant, with other key agencies such as:

  • The Environment Agency;
  • Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs);
  • Highways England;
  • Local Planning Authorities;
  • District Council drainage engineers; and
  • Greater London Authority.

Further evidence was gathered via workshops with a large number of water and drainage stakeholders.

Objectives achieved

The report provides important insights into the operation of the current framework for managing surface water in England. It addresses issues regarding roles and responsibilities, collaboration and partnership working between key agencies, leadership, resourcing and funding, the role of the planning system and more. These insights have fed directly in to Defra’s Surface Water Management Action Plan, which sets out a range of actions to both improve our understanding of the risks and strengthen delivery.

For further information on this review, or on CAG’s work on flood risk management more widely, contact CAG Partner Tim Maiden,, 07961 541281


Jul 19, 2018